Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Spicy Black Eyed Peas Stew

Every year on the first of the year we try to cook up a big batch of black eyed peas. So as the first of the year is just a night away, thought I will post one of my favorite (slightly adapted from previous) recipe of black eyed peas.

In parts of US it is considered a good luck to eat a meal of black eyed peas alongwith some greens (usually sautéed collard greens) and cornbread on the first day of the year. The symbolism behind this is really cute. The black eyed peas swell during the process of cooking (from dried to cooked). The swelling of the peas indicates prosperity in the coming year. The greens indicate 'greens'=money for the new year. and the spiciness of the food is symbolic of the the spice in your life for the year ahead. 

More than the symbolism though, I follow this food tradition because I really like black eyed peas and this is a good opportunity to cook a big batch of these delicious but often side-stepped legume.

Being a lazy and greedy person that I am, I tend to cook all the prosperity, wealth and spiciness in one single pot instead of making multiple dishes :) One pot meals rule in our house-hold! Anyway, so here is to prosperity, wealth, spiciness and happiness to all of you in the coming new year! Happy New Year!!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Holiday Cookies and A Wish for a Very Happy New Year!

Hi there! It has been so long.. sometimes life and work have a way of taking over things you love, don't they? Neverthless, I am committed to keeping this little space alive and buzzling, even if that means, ummm, 10 posts a year. A slow going is better than no going, right?!

For me Holidays are always the best time of the year. I have come to realize that holidays gain a special meaning and bring even more happiness and joy if you have a little one to share it with. May be it's a parent's deep desire and drive to make a perfect holiday for their little ones or it's the joy it brings to see a full blown smile on their faces seeing the Christmas tree at home lit up for the first time.. but holidays do take a special meaning with a little one around.

My little one just turned two. I have been meaning to start a holiday tradition with her, something simple, something just the two of us share every year - mother and daughter thing. And what else a foodie can think other than cooking or baking! So baking Christmas cookies is it. 

This was our first year of baking Christmas cookies at home. They turned out very tasty (much better than what I was expecting out of sugar cookies to be honest!). Although our hands could get more skilled with cookie decoration, overall we are quite happy with the results..

Little one was very excited and took a very active role baking the cookies, much more than I expected her to do at this age. I called her my baker's little assistant :)

I followed a simple but clearly a winner recipe from Allrecipes for making sugar cookies. The only change I made was to quarter the recipe - making only 15 servings which was more than enough for us to enjoy and share with few friends we met over Christmas.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

(Trader Joe's) Chicken Parmesan

Chicken Parmesan has always been a go-to restaurant favorite at our place. Every time Chicken Parmesan craving strikes, we used to head over to a nearby Olive Garden for our periodic Chicken Parmesan fix. There are some dishes one for some reason thinks must be too elaborate and time consuming to make at home for our busy life-styles; Chicken Parmesan was one such misconception for me...

With a toddler at bay, we are entering a phase of being very wary of fine dining places. Combined that with the fact that we were never the "takeout-types" means I now have an extra incentive to take a crack at making our usual restaurant favorites at home - there is always a bright side to everything in life, right?!

I call this recipe "Trader Joe's" Chicken Parmesan because 1) ingredients picked up from TJ's makes this "recipe" an assembly task really rather than a real cooking task and 2) I just absolutely love shopping at that place! (I am not getting paid to advertise for TJ's, just a very happy customer!)

The hands-on time in this recipe is around 15-mins which consists mainly of pre-assembly preps while unattended cooking time is 30-mins - so as long as you have the right ingredients at hand, fear no more - a restaurant style Chicken Parmesan is less than an hour away. And, making at home has his advantages too - you can customize it just the way you like. I usually skip the mozzarella cheese and pan fry the chicken cutlets to be extra crunchy. 

Toss together a quick simple green salads while the chicken is baking, and there you have it - a true restaurant style meal in 1/4th the budget and under an hour :)

Saturday, January 19, 2013

It's Not a Tomato; It's an Idea of a Tomato

When did our food choices become so complex? From a society of people who spent majority of their time hunting, gathering, fishing and then turning their daily haul into simple delicious meals - to the society of people today who are navigating aisles and aisles of highly processed supermarket foods, packaged with attractive colorful labels and a long non-pronounceable ingredient list. Between food industrialization, clever food marketing and food lobbyists, collectively I fear we have given very little thought to what this ready-to-eat culture is doing to our own planet, society and our long-term health and well-being.

"It's not a tomato; it's an idea of a tomato" it's a tagline by one of my favorite authors Michael Pollan from an old food documentary Food Inc. that struck a deep cord with me. He was explaining how the supermarket culture is erasing the seasons and the meaning of seasonal produce. Now a days most fruits and vegetables are available year long - shipped from across the globe preserved in ethylene just so it's available all the time. Such a year-long tomato is picked when it's still green, preserved, artificial ripened and packaged carefully and shipped for thousands of miles - what it does to the taste of the food is quite imaginable. If you have tasted a fresh tomato picked from garden or from a local farmer's market, you know what they mean when they say that you don't know how a tomato tastes like until you pick one fresh off the vine yourself! What you find in supermarkets year-around is something that sure looks like tomato, is called a tomato but in reality is just an idea of a tomato - a notional tomato.

What prompted all these thoughts? I visited a super-market recently to buy milk for my daughter. As the usual readers of Ginger & Garlic know, we have switched over to eating local produce and minimally processed foods in our household. Some weeks are better than others towards this goal and this was one of the weeks where we had just come back from vacation and the grocery-shopping schedules were off.

So anyway, I am in the milk aisle looking for organic whole-milk. I see one priced at $5.99 and right next to it is a plain regular whole-milk priced at $2.49. I picked the organic one. Right next to me was an old lady from Greece (she told later) who was visiting family in the area. She was curious why I bought $6 milk instead of the cheaper one. As I explained to her the whole business of organic versus non-organic and why for my daughter I don't mind paying extra bucks for organic and saw the incredulity on her face - I wondered  how did we get here? 

As I was growing up in India in a small town "organic" was the norm or I should non-organic did not exist. The cowman of the village neither fed his cows highly processed corn and soy nor did he inject them with growth boosting stuff. It was just plain old natural milk (albeit a bit diluted with water at times). Now with many engineered profit-boosting means readily available, the non-organic milk is the one omnipresent and so very cheap - while the old "regular", the natural one is the one we have to pay hefty premium for.. so strange!

I have been reading a lot recently about food industrialization. How the history of agricultural and food policies of post world war II era helped create this culture of highly processed foods, animal factories and ready-to-eat everything. As a result today an American household spends merely 31mins on average prepping meals including clean-ups (source: an excellent article from Michael Pollan). While processed food revolution has had a great impact in making food accessible to everyone (one of the main reasons for it's invention), I worry we have minimal data to the health-impacts of highly processed, shelved foods.

As a mom of a one-year old I think a lot of what to put on table, where the food is coming from, is it sustainable, fresh, free from all the genetic modifications, pesticides and growth induced drugs. Sometimes it scares me a lot where our food culture is going to take us.

Anyway, enough of the serious thoughts - now coming back to this recipe, it's a simple gajar ka halwa or gajaracha sheera as we call it in Marathi. It's an Indian dessert made with carrots, milk and sugar. Recipe is very simple. You can serve it cold or warm - it's sure to be crowd pleaser!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Masale Bhat (Spiced Rice)

Masale bhat in Maharashtra is a meal fit for kings! It has it's place secured in all the weddings and celebrations. Back home in childhood I remember my Mom making a large pot of masale bhat whenever guests were coming over for a meal. Traditionally it is made by roasting and grinding fresh spices such as whole peppercorn, coriander and cumin seeds and adding a bunch of whole spices such as cloves, star anise and adorned with whole roasted cashews. It is also not uncommon for masale bhat to be made with Tindora vegetable. 

Now a days however I take many short-cuts such as substituting cauliflower for hard-to-find tindora, using prepared goda masala instead of roasting and grinding fresh spices and altogether skipping on whole spices as we share most of our meals with our 1-year old and it always worries me having whole spices in her food.  It is still very tasty - and when served with a yogurt dip or raita, it is still a meal fit for kings :)

I am a big fan of one pot meals. There are times for more elaborate preparations but on many days in our household a simple one pot meal is what stands between grabbing that phone for a greasy takeout or a quick healthy meal prepared at home.

The way I prepare Masale Bhat is not technically with one pot - I do use two pots, one to saute veggies and rice and the second one being rice cooker; however there is really no reason why you couldn't saute in the rice cooker pan or use a pressure cooker for both the steps. Another advantage of this dish is that it is a generic fridge cleaner - I make this dish many Friday nights when all we have in fridge are various remaining ends and scraps of veggies from the week.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Picture Post: Saturday Morning Farmer's Market

For a few years now we have been buying our family's fresh produce and fruits from local farmer's markets. We love our Saturday morning farmer's market routine. Fridge is always empty by Friday night and the Saturday morning visit to markets is not only the necessity in our household but has now become a tradition of kick-starting your weekend with a relaxing family activity. We reward ourselves occasionally by stopping by at a nearby coffee place to grab an egg sandwich and a hot cup of coffee on wintry days or a cold refreshing fresh fruit juice when the sun shines high up above. But on most days, a leisurely stroll through lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and surrounded by like-minded foodies, is all this foodie is really looking for!

I consider myself extremely fortunate to be living in an area with a year-around farmer's market. We enjoy every season to our heart's content with locally grown fruits and vegetables - sweet berries in spring, lots of stone fruits and squashes in summer, persimmon, yams and Brussels sprouts in fall and oranges and all the abundance of green vegetables in winter!

Today I take you through our local farmer's market tour through a picture post. So sit back and relax and I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

View of the market street from our coffee place - when the weather is below freezing, got to have caffeine to kick-start your day..

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Sesame brittle (Tilgul) - the easiest sesame candies ever!

Who doesn't love snacking on candies or brittle, right? But a lot of people shy away when it comes to candy-making. - and for good reasons, mind you! Candy making has had this perfectionist art aura to it. Not only that you need a special equipment such as a candy thermometer but also the preparation is very unforgiving to mistakes, a few degrees temperature difference here or there can make a difference between a perfect bite of candy to an unchewable mass. Fret no more however - this by far is the easiest candy/brittle that you can make and what's more, it does not require a candy thermometer either.

Come January and most people in India are celebrating Sankranti - a festival which marks Sun's entrance in Capricorn zodiac by making various sweets with sesame seeds and sugar/molasses. Sesame seeds symbolize the bonds of togetherness while molasses or jaggery symbolizes the sweet bonds of all of our relationships. Offering your friends and family sesame sweets is very traditional this month - it symbolizes our intents for a warm, caring and fostering relationship for the year ahead. The symbolization aside, all it meant to me for most of my childhood is unlimited chance to munch on my favorite sweets!

Without further ado, here is how I made sesame brittle or Tilgul:

Saturday, January 5, 2013

A tale of two chutneys...

We love having friends over at our house for simple no-fuss parties. Earlier I never quite understood why my other-friends-with-kids always preferred hosting lunch/dinners at home instead of going to that new and happening restaurant in town, even though it looked kid-friendly - well, that was until I had a kid of my own! It is just so much easy lazily cooking through most of the day chatting with friends over coffee than the fuss of dressing up, getting kids dressed up, making sure they behave at restaurants and guiltily paying the waiter extra tip for a food-throw party that happened around the high-chair. So while we still eat out quite often for a couple with young kid, slowly but surely many of our social gatherings are finally moving towards home settings.

Now a days I really enjoy hosting simple no-fuss meals with just one or two main crowd-pleasing dishes. It's less work for you and all the same fun. Some of my favorite such menus include a lunch over biryani/raita or a paav-bhaji and bhel day or a dinner over quesadilla or our latest favorite a simple idli-dosa party.

My husband is the official dosa maker of the household. Dosa making is one skill I never quite fully mastered - my dosas neither come out as crunchy or as thin as his; but we are happy with our arrangement; he churns out the best dosas and I make idlis and accompaniments such as sambhar and chutneys. So that brings me to the two absolutely awesome chutneys each of us conjured recently for a new years feast!

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This page and all of its contents is copyright of Prajakta Gudadhe. All rights reserved.

This is a web catalog of the recipes that I have tried and tasted in my kitchen. While these recipes and instructions have worked well for me, please use all the information and the recipes from Ginger and Garlic at your own risk.